The Loss of Modesty


From 'Neighborhood' to the Gated Communities

In her project, Ayse Cavdar analyzes new forms and styles of rising Muslim middle classes in the transforming urban context of Turkey. The outline of the project can be summarized under these subtitles:

Re-urbanization of Islam
By the 1960s many conservative families from small towns in the countryside moved to cities, especially to Istanbul. This happened because of rapid industrialization of economy and in this context migration to the cities. For those families the abstract idea of “Ottoman identity” and Islam functioned as symbolic shelters against rapid and oppressive modernization policies of Turkey. Until the 1980s they had not only created lifestyles and “survival projects” (e.g. re-forming religious communities in the old Ottoman neighborhoods of Istanbul) but also a body of literature based on the historical and Islamic criticism of Turkish modernity. In this period, one of the main axes of this criticism was the loss of modesty, because of the provocation of consumerism by modernization policies.

Reimagining 'mahalle'
Following the 1980 coup d'etat, the market mechanism in Turkey was widened by neoliberal economy policies. Using this opportunity, many new groups started to take their part in the economy as more active actors than in previous decades. In this new wave of marketization of the economy, Muslim families started to accumulate capital and to rise as an emerging middle class. In this period, the criticism of modernization policies was replaced by new claims for business and representation in the public sphere. Until this period, the notion of the 'mahalle' was one of the main bases of the lifestyle promoting solidarity and similarity among Muslim/conservative middle class families. However, from this period onwards they have started to create a new lifestyle determining new conditions for living as 'Muslims' in the cities. This lifestyle was not rejecting the consumer culture, but redefining and re-forming it through the 'Muslim codes'. At the same time, the 'Muslim codes' were also re-defined because of the economic and political competition among different groups in the context of Turkey. Luxury gated communities inhabited by Muslim families have appeared in this period. Leaving "Ottoman neighborhoods" behind and moving to these new gated communities, they began to limit their relationships with other Muslim/conservative families, excluding those who did not have enough resources to share similar lifestyles. Thus, taking a more active part in the market mechanism changed the definitions of solidarity and similarity among Muslim/conservative groups. The modesty, formerly defined as one of the main characteristics of the 'Muslim life style' disappeared not only from the discourse, but also the newly created lifestyle.

In order to examine these hypotheses Ayse Cavdar uses three different analytical categories to study the steps of this transformation of Muslim communities' relationships with-in urban space: Academic literature and fiction, family stories, and 'Artisans' of the new gated communities.